While adults worship in St. Paul’s sanctuary each morning, children from ages 4 through 12 are invited to participate in the Godly Play program, a Montessori-style worship experience which guides children to learn the Word of God through discovery and experience, rather than simply listening.
What is Godly Play?
The Godly Play Foundation describes its concept as “[teaching] children the art of using Christian language – parable, sacred story, silence and liturgical action – [and] helping them become more fully aware of the mystery of God’s presence in their lives.” In plain words, Godly Play provides for children the same resources that St. Paul’s church provides for adults: interpretation and connection of Biblical stories and passages which allows them to better understand the truths of God’s Word and the actions He takes in our lives every day.
Historically, Godly Play is a recent concept, developed as recently as the 1970s. Its tenets, however, are based much earlier. The style of education was developed at the turn of the 20th century, and the stories used and concepts taught date back thousands of years: the same Bible stories that are familiar to all of us as Christ’s disciples.
Parables and stories
In the Gospels, Jesus taught his disciples using stories called parables. Many of the traditions of the Old Testament were also passed down verbally. These stories have been compiled into what we know today as the Bible, separated into Old and New Testaments. Each story has one or more subjects, a setting, a challenge, and an outcome.
In the Godly Play format, children are compelled to interact with the elements of the story, giving them a tactile connection to each element. Teachers in Godly Play are not simply equipped with knowledge that is dispensed to children on a ‘need-to-know’ basis. Rather, they give children the tools to discover knowledge for themselves.
The Godly Play model teaches children to develop their own personal, unique, and deeply spiritual relationship with God. The Godly Play Foundation writes, “It’s about understanding how each of the stories of God’s people connects with the child’s own experience and relationship with God. Godly Play respects the innate spirituality of children and encourages curiosity and imagination in experiencing the mystery and joy of God.”
Children are encouraged not only to use actions to connect with God and with Bible stories, but also to understand where God is in silence. In the United Church of Christ, we believe that “God is still speaking“, and the use of silence reinforces this concept, encouraging children to listen for the voice of God whenever and wherever they are able.
What is the ‘Montessori style’ of learning?
Developed over time beginning in the late 1800s by Italian physician Maria Montessori, the Montessori style of learning encourages children to learn and utilize personal tendencies such as communication, activity, exploration, repetition, abstraction, and more. In the Godly Play curriculum, the teacher uses all of these concepts to empower children to discover Bible stories for themselves, giving them freedom to learn within a safe and controlled environment.
The Godly Play environment
Our Godly Play classroom is a dedicated environment re-purposed specifically for enabling children to learn in this way. Different Bible stories from the Old and New Testament exist as wooden figurines and settings, felt backgrounds and figures, and other tangible elements which encourage a direct connection to events of the past.
What does a typical ‘service’ of Godly Play look like?
- Children enter the Godly Play classroom and ‘get ready’: they are being prepared for the worship experience in the same way we do as we enter a church sanctuary.
- At the opening of the service, children are greeted, invited to enter, and form a circle quietly around the instructor.
- Children hear the word of God from the day’s teacher, who uses a multi-sensory approach, encouraging children to experience and become involved in the day’s story and lesson.
- The instructor engages the children, using “wondering” questions, allowing them to connect their own experiences to the story they have just heard.
- Children are invited to respond to the story in whatever way they feel best, using a variety of multi-sensory creative media.
- At the end of the service, the children are invited to participate in ‘The Feast’, in the same way we participate in communion and the same way Jesus feasted with his disciples at the Last Supper.
Why does St. Paul’s sponsor a Godly Play program?
At St. Paul’s, we believe that it is necessary not only to nurture a childhood belief in Christ, but to raise it in such a way as to provide the tools for a Christ-like life as children grow. As we age, skills learned in childhood, if continually practiced and refined, become innate, ingrained – and the practice of faith is no different. Godly Play enables children to learn the skills of godly living and the stories of the Bible in a unique and non-traditional way while still raising them to be good stewards and citizens of God’s church and our faith community.
St. Paul’s mission statement is to plant seeds and water them, faithfully believing God will provide. Located in an area where agriculture is a primary industry, we know that the best time to plant seeds is when the soil is most fertile. When children are exposed at an early age to easily understandable concepts of love and faith, these become building blocks: tenets upon which they can build and grow their own independent future lives with Christ at their center.
As a parent, what can I do to support Godly Play?
- Engage your children by asking questions about their experiences of the day. Use “wondering” questions; i.e., “I wonder what your favorite part of today’s class was.”
- Ensure that your children arrive to Godly Play on time, as a minimum of disruption once the story has begun allows for the most complete worship experience for all.
- Pray for both the children and the instructors of Godly Play that they will be enriched and fulfilled by their experience.
For more information about how you can assist with Godly Play, you can contact the Church Office to learn more about direct participation in the program or how you can support the program through donation.
Are you interested in having your child participate in this program?
Services at St. Paul’s for both adults and children are held at 10:15 AM on Sunday mornings (9:00 AM during the summer). The Godly Play program takes place on the second floor of the Heidelberg School House building (St. Paul’s Social Hall) in downtown Schaefferstown. Click here for directions to the church.